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revised October 05, 2011

Arrow BulletPandemic Influenza (Flu)

What is a pandemic?
A pandemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads easily and rapidly around the world. The infectious disease may or may not be an influenza virus (also known as the flu).

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What is pandemic flu?
Pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which humans have little or no immunity. It is a highly infectious respiratory illness that spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide and may have serious complications.

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What is the difference between avian (bird) flu, swine flu, seasonal human flu and pandemic flu?
These are all different types of influenza (flu). Avian (bird) flu is carried and easily spread among birds but not easily spread among humans. Swine flu is common throughout pig populations worldwide. In a number of instances, people in close contact with pigs have developed the swine flu (e.g., farmers and pork processors) and, likewise, pigs have occasionally been infected with the human flu.

Pandemic flu can occur if avian flu or swine flu mixes with human flu and creates a new strain of influenza virus that can spread easily from person-to-person throughout the world. This can occur at any time during the year. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu included a mix of human flu, avian (bird) flu, and swine flu.

Seasonal human flu is a common respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It spreads from person-to-person mostly through coughing and sneezing when droplets containing the virus come into contact with another person’s mouth, nose or eyes. Flu also spreads when people touch surfaces which have recently been in contact with the virus and then touch their face. This flu is considered seasonal because it infects people every year. In Canada, human flu season usually begins in October and ends in April.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle pain and weakness, headache, fatigue, cough, runny nose and sore throat. Diarrhea and vomiting may occur (especially in children).

The symptoms of seasonal flu and pandemic flu are similar; however, pandemic flu may cause more severe symptoms, more frequent complications, as well as affect younger and healthier adults.

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What can I do to protect myself and my family?

  • Get vaccinated each year! It is the single best way to prevent seasonal flu.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing. Immediately dispose of used tissues and clean hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Keep a distance of two metres (six feet) from others to prevent the spread of flu
  • Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand rub:
    • After sneezing or coughing,
    • After wiping your nose,
    • Before handling or eating food,
    • After using the toilet, and
    • Whenever your hands are dirty.
  • Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Practise good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
  • Ensure you have one week of essential supplies at home (e.g., food, water and medications). Include a thermometer and medication for reducing fever.
  • Do not share personal items, such as towels or utensils.
  • Call your doctor before visiting their office to let them know you have flu symptoms
  • Know how to care for an adult or child who becomes sick with the flu.
  • Develop your own personal and family preparedness plans

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When will pandemic flu happen?
History tells us that pandemics occur three to four times each century and some are worse than others. Experts cannot predict when a pandemic will occur.

There were three influenza pandemics in the 20th century. So far, the 21st century has experienced one flu pandemic in June 2009 (H1N1 flu).  Experts say that 25% - 35% of the population may get pandemic flu at some point in their lifetime.

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Will there be a vaccine available for pandemic flu?
Vaccine is available every year for human flu season because experts are able to assess the type of human flu that will be circulating. It is the best protection against contracting the flu. However, a pandemic flu vaccine cannot be developed until the influenza virus has been identified, so it will not be available in the early stages of a pandemic.  Vaccine may take four to five months to be developed and may be in short supply initially.

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How has Peel Public Health prepared for a flu pandemic?
Peel Public Health works together with provincial and federal authorities to monitor flu activity around the world.  Peel Public Health also monitors the number of respiratory illness, like the flu, with stakeholders within Peel.  Peel Public Health’s pandemic plan, which outlines our roles and responsibilities before, during and after a pandemic flu is reviewed regularly and updated as needed.

Peel Public Health and Peel Regional Emergency Program (PREP) educate, consult and collaborate with key stakeholders to promote the development, revision and review of their own pandemic and business continuity plans, as well as the regional coordinated response plan.

For more information, please call the Region of Peel at 905-799-7700 or visit www.peelpandemic.ca.

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Where can I get credible information on pandemic flu?
Peel residents are advised to check the following website for information:

Provides information on pandemic flu, how to reduce the risk of infection and information on business continuity planning for local businesses

Provides information on personal and family emergency preparedness

Additional information is available at:

For more information, please call the Region of Peel at 905-799-7700.

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Revised: October 05, 2011


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